Ariane de Gennaro

My car jumps as it rides over the trademark Pennsylvania potholes, tracing the familiar path through my town to Haylie’s house. The sights outside my window haven’t changed in the three months I’ve been gone, save for some trees that have been chopped down across from my elementary school to make room for more houses. Other than that, home is exactly the way it  has always been.

Except it isn’t. 

The bed that I’ve slept in for the past 18 years of my life feels cold and fresh, the same way a bed at a hotel does. It doesn’t take time to mold to your body, because it knows you won’t be there long. My walls are still adorned with peeling pink paper and old Broadway playbills, but there are noticeable gaps in the decor. Once upon a time, every inch of wall space was covered. Now, colorful tacks stand in the wall, sticking out like tombstones in a floral pink field. They trace the outline of what used to be, what I’ve since torn down and transferred to my new home five hours away. 

When I arrive at Haylie’s doorstep, she greets me with her usual toothy grin. “I almost burned my house down!” she exclaims as soon as she sees me, then proceeds to explain all of the things that went wrong while she was cooking the turkey for our Friendsgiving. She’s dramatic and full of life just like she’s always been, and the sight of her soothes my aching heart. 

When our other two friends arrive, I’m hit with another wave of nostalgia. Val is still Val, arranging her charcuterie board with utmost precision and groaning about her tummy hurting after dinner. And Angie is still Angie, joking about the people we know from high school and pretending to bite my shoulder when I give her a hug. Together, the four of us make up the Pinocchio Hate Club. It’s not because we hate Pinocchio; It’s an old inside joke that became the name for our group chat, and now it’s too iconic to be replaced. 

“It’s nice to know some things never change,” I think to myself as we pass around a box of Crumbl cookies. Minutes later, I accidentally knock said box of cookies off the table, and it becomes clear that my time at college hasn’t made me any less clumsy. Haylie laughs, Angie gasps, Val looks at the now-crushed cookies in dismay, and I wish I could bottle the moment and save it forever. I wasn’t ever homesick at college, but at that moment, I realized I was people-sick. I missed having these three sunbeams of light in my life more than I knew possible. They’re familiar, they’re safe; they’re constants in an endless sea of ever-changing variables.

Yet, as we sit around the table swapping stories from our respective colleges, I realize that that isn’t entirely true. Though she’s still the same person at her core, Angie sits a little taller when she speaks, and her words carry a newfound confidence. Haylie’s stories about the people she’s met at University of Michigan are hard to follow because they contain so many characters, and it’s clear that she’s become even more outgoing than she was before — which none of us thought was possible. Val stayed closer to home than the rest of us, but even she is different. She’s much more articulate about her feelings and doesn’t shove them aside the way she used to. The changes are so minute, I’m sure my friends don’t notice them themselves, but I have the privilege of seeing them anew, after months apart. As I kneel next to Haylie to scrub cookie icing off the floor, I wonder what changes they, in turn, must be noticing in me. 

I complained earlier about how home feels foreign, but perhaps it is me who is the foreigner. Life at Yale couldn’t be more different from life in my tiny hometown — not in a bad way, just in a “different” way. The changes in myself and my friends are the same: not bad, just different. They’re probably good, if anything. It’s not human nature to be static. 

When we first arrived at Haylie’s house and reunited after months apart, Val had joked that the Pinocchio Hate Club was taking on its “final form.” “You make us sound like Pokemon,” I teased her, but perhaps she was right. We’re still evolving, just like Pikachu. That evolution might mean feeling like a stranger in our own bed or eating overcooked turkey with friends on Black Friday, but it’s all growth. It’s all change, whether we see it or not. It took me a drive down memory lane to realize it was happening. Maybe that should make me sad, but the idea of growth just makes me excited. “Home” is defined less by place than by people, so really, “home” is growing with me. It’s already expanded to encapsulate the people I’ve met at Yale, in addition to the ones I love back in Pennsylvania. 

My physical “home” feels different, yes, but my “Home,” capital “H,” will always be the friends and family I love most. And if I ever get people-sick, I know the Pinocchio Hate Club is just a call away.